Osheta Moore, a Black Anabaptist pastor, was driving her two boys home from a youth retreat when she saw the police cruiser behind her turn on her light. Confused, because Moore knew she wasn’t speeding, she changed lanes to make it easier for the police officer to get behind whoever it was she was pursuing.
When the police car then changed lanes behind her, Moore’s heart sank. She was being pulled over, but why? As it turns out, the officer thought the two boys were not buckled in (they were). But the officer ran Moore’s license anyway because, in her words, Moore was being “difficult” because she didn’t slow down immediately and she didn’t, in her continued confusion, immediately roll down the windows to the back seat where her boys sat, wide-eyed.
As a listener (I switched back and forth from audiobook to print book), I had a visceral reaction to this story. My heart was hammering, and I exhaled in relief after the officer drove away, not even knowing I had been holding my breath. For Moore and her boys, though, this episode was terrifying, taking place in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in the same city as the murder of Philando Castile.
It is just one story, gently and factually told, that brought home for me the need to accept the invitation of the book’s title: Dear White Peacemakers. Moore is writing to white readers who want to be agents of peace and shalom, and she really does mean the “dear” part.
“This is a love letter first and foremost to my White siblings who want to be called in when you feel like you’ve only been called out for your fragility, your privilege, for your inability to fully understand,” she writes in the introduction. Being constantly called out causes walls to rise, but being called in feels more like a table than a wall. Moore’s kindness in this shift permeates these pages.
What sets this book apart from any other anti-racism book I have read is that Moore approaches her subject and challenges it with the assumption that every person, Black or white, is beloved.
Even the baseball coach who said the n-word around her biracial son is beloved, though Moore does not gloss over the pain and anger his behavior elicited in her heart. The way she handles herself and the coach in a meeting is a masterclass of how to bring the best out of a bad situation. “Could I be a peacemaker,” she writes, “seeking to believe the best and give the benefit of the doubt to this White man who had hurt me and my son?”
What follows is Moore’s vision to forge a third way, not pretending everything is great in the name of “unity” (in previous years, she learned how to be safe and approachable to white people, so as not to be called “divisive”), and not accusing and shaming white people, thereby putting them on the defensive. Instead of being “shame-laden and hustle bound,” she calls readers to own their belovedness, and from that place work toward becoming agents of shalom—nothing missing, nothing broken.
As a narrator, Moore is warm, engaging, and friendly. You can hear the smile in her voice and the good humor in her spirit. The breath prayers at the end of every chapter are reverential, short but powerful, rendering any space the listener occupies (the car for me, mostly) into a sacred place.
I recommend this book for white readers who want to engage in the work of racial justice but have no idea where to start, and also for those who feel defensive and wary. It’s for those who found Ibram X Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist to be too much (full of great ideas but definitely “shame-laden and hustle-bound”), but other books to be not enough.
This book is for those who want to work toward wholeness and healing but feel like they don’t want to risk getting it “wrong” and embarrassing themselves. The focus here is being beloved. Sister Osheta is waving us over to the table, a “table set for White peacemakers curated by a Black peacemaker.” There we can sit and stay awhile, learning together to live into the truth of Ephesians 2:14: “He himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” (Herald Press)